The race to the sun has begun. After an unprecedented 19-week ban on international leisure travel from the UK, 30 holiday flights are scheduled to depart on Monday to Portugal.
Three more will leave for Gibraltar, the only other southern European destination on the government’s meagre “green list” – from which returning holidaymakers need not quarantine.
Until midnight on Sunday, anyone who turned up at a British airport hoping to get on a flight for non-essential reasons faced a £5,000 fine.
On the day the travel ban was lifted, around 5,000 holidaymakers are expected to make the journey from the UK to the Iberian peninsula and the Portuguese islands of Madeira and Porto Santo.
But onerous testing rules requiring expensive procedures have diminished the appetite for travel.
Ryanair has cut the fare from Stansted to Faro to £9.99 on Monday. The same price applies on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Portuguese authorities announced on Friday afternoon that arrivals must present a negative PCR test. Travellers booked to travel on Monday had less than 72 hours’ notice to organise the test, typically at a cost of £100.
The very first departures of holiday flights since January, both operated by Tui, are from Gatwick to Porto Santo and from Manchester to Funchal at 6am.
But they will not be the first to arrive in Portugal: a Ryanair flight from Manchester to Faro is due to touch down at 9.05am. It will be followed half-an-hour later by another Ryanair jet from Stansted – which is the main departure point for Portuguese departures on Monday, with seven.
Gatwick and Heathrow are despatching six each; Manchester five; Birmingham three; with one to Faro from each of Bournemouth, Luton and East Midlands.
The Ryanair flight from East Midlands is the first commercial passenger flight in six months.
Ryanair is the leading airline, with 14 departures. British Airways has five, easyJet and Tui four, and TAP Portugal three.
More than half are heading for Faro, with six to Lisbon, four to Madeira, three to Porto and one to Porto Santo.
To Gibraltar, the only other accessible destination on the green list, British Airways is first away from Heathrow, followed by Wizz Air and easyJet from Luton.
Spain, France, Italy and Greece – the major European destinations for UK holidaymakers – are all on the “amber list”.
Airlines and holiday companies are flying to amber list countries, from which 10 days’ self-isolation at home is required.
There are multiple departures from London airports to the Costa del Sol airport of Malaga: on British Airways from Heathrow, easyJet from Gatwick and Ryanair from Stansted.
Tui is sending two holiday flights to the Greek island of Corfu, also on the amber list.
On Sunday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told Times Radio: “The red and amber list are places that you shouldn’t go to unless you have an absolutely compelling reason.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group – which includes Stansted and East Midlands – said: “Welcoming passengers back to our airports today is a symbolic moment after the most difficult year in our history.
“However, with so few countries on the green list, this is not the broader restart our sector or our passengers were hoping for.
“We’re calling on ministers to increase the number of countries on the green list, and for a smarter approach to protecting the UK from variants of concern which would remove the need for costly PCR testing.”
The veteran travel guide, Paul Goldstein, who is travelling on Monday from Stansted to Faro, said: “The green list is just a bit of tokenism from Matt Hancock and [transport secretary] Grant Shapps so they can get the headlines that they granting summer holidays.”
Most of the dozen destinations on the green list are either inaccessible or are not admitting British holidaymakers.
The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have urged people in their nations to holiday at home.